May 2018 - The Birthplace of Country Music
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A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words: The Bristol Rhythm Poster, from Idea to Design

Third weekend of September: Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. I can remember sitting in what’s now Bristol Ballet looking out the window between Saturday rehearsals. The plucking of instruments mixed with laughter in crowds; the smell of funnel cake wafted through the trees and into our dance studio. After class, it was always a race to change and spend the rest of the day downtown! The anticipation of festival weekend looked different as I grew up, but the feeling of home has lasted even after moving away. That feeling led me to even conduct a final research project on the 2012 festival poster during my senior year at Carson-Newman.

I knew I wanted to illustrate this feeling somehow, but had never tried. However, I thought to myself: “If I just paint something and text a picture to Rhythm and Roots, they may like it…maybe even use it!” Temporarily hijacking the mudroom of my house as an art studio, I had a vision: a banjo doubling as the moon with the neck as State Street and people dancing all around. Then I’ll throw in some state flags, lights, trees, and a few Bristol landmarks with a party of flowers in the night sky! The only problem with that? I’d finished the top half only, not the bottom, when I excitedly texted Leah Ross that first phone picture. I got more carried away by the day as I prepped it for showing, full of detail and ideas. And then I heard the good news: my design would be on the 2018 Bristol Rhythm festival poster.

The early version of the festival poster had a large "moon" banjo, state flags, mountains, dancers, the Paramount marquee and the Bristol sign all within the design.
This earlier version of the festival poster had a lot of details, which affected the impact of the design. © Jill McElroy

The lineup reveal a few weeks ago was a happy, happy ending (beginning?) for that 2018 festival poster. The process getting there taught me a great deal as an artist. After talking with so many people who also love their artistic side, I’m a firm believer in teaching what we know. The really cool thing about this adventure was that I was a total novice working with people I cared deeply about. I may hold a degree in advertising and have graphic design clients of my own, but had never undertaken a fusion of painting and advertising together – but I learned a lot through the process.

So the question is: Are you a painter hoping to showcase your work like this one day? If so, and whether it’s through a music festival or something else exciting, here’s what I learned that could help:

Great design is simple to understand: There’s a place for symbolism and double meaning in art, but a publicity piece isn’t it. If we’d left the banjo doubling as the moon and the neck doubling as State Street like the original design, your brain would fry like a prom queen in a tanning bed! Remember when Starbucks dropped their lettering to reveal only their green mermaid logo? Twitter threw a royal fit for a few days! But over time that attitude shifted. We all now clearly see that their logo is a mermaid because the letters were a busy distraction. This is one of those things that I knew was a common mistake in designing for advertising. But as an artist I needed to learn to slow my roll a tad if my design was going to work for clients.

Great design doesn’t let important information get lost: I loved this project so much, but the final look was a team effort. My original hand-lettering was pretty, but ended up being lost in the overall look so much that you had to really study the poster to figure out what it was even promoting. Now with the final design, you see the name of the festival and the date, special thanks to the graphic design team at Birthplace of Country Music (thanks for all of the enthusiasm, Hannah and Sarah!). We made the banjo more than double its size (I traced the baptismal font bowl from First Presbyterian Church for the correct diameter on the original!) in order to draw the eye to the lettering. And the t-shirts look marvelous thanks to the new font! Using the same blue as the background tied the whole thing together like magic.

Great design tells your story while also reaching your squad: The original poster design had the Paramount and Bristol signs. We’ve had these before in posters and they work! But how could we challenge ourselves? If we have people coming from Australia and Canada, what kind of poster would they want to take home? Maybe some variety could shift that “Oh, I bought a poster here already in 2000-whenever” into another purchase. And we all know that a purchase – as a tangible way to mark their experience – means they might just come back to the festival over and over. So instead of a Bristol landmark, I did the two state flags. Being in two places at once listening to live music is a great story anywhere! It also separates us geographically from other music towns like Nashville or Galax.

The final poster with the big "moon" banjo dominating the design, flanked by the two states flags, and the information about the festival (dates, name, logos).
The final design for the festival poster was cleaner, letting the viewer see the important information but also enjoy the energy of the freestyle artwork. © Jill McElroy

Finally, I think the bottom line with this year’s poster is that Bristol is legendary. People may not know about Bristol, but once you hear about it, you always respect it! This is true with its history, yes, but also the way musicians flock to us over and over. College for a Bristol kid means loading up the car on Bristol Rhythm weekend and bringing out-of-town friends home. Then those friends all have new favorite bands that go along with their memories of standing in the spot where it all began! For people who’ve lived here their whole lives, Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion gives a different feeling every year, yet the same traditions are honored and celebrated. I already have my Spotify full of Old Crow, War and Treaty, and Pigeon Kings, ready for the party that is Bristol Rhythm in September!

Jill McElroy is a Bristol native with a love of music and our festival. She decided to leave a full-time job last year in order to pursue starting a brand illustration and art business. She designs logos and personalities for other brands and has her first art series premiering this summer! As a former intern for Birthplace of Country Music, Jill’s feelings about being a festival poster artist can be summed up in one word: Joy!  

Traveller Band and a Travelin’ Man: An Adventurous Farm and Fun Time

Farm and Fun Time launched into its third season on May 10 with another show for the ages! From down-home blues to space age songwriters, this month’s program showcased the full spectrum of music that makes Radio Bristol the station you know and love. Thanks to our sponsor Eastman Credit Union, Radio Bristol was able to bring Farm and Fun Time to not only those in the audience or tuned in to WBCM-LP, but to viewers far and wide via Facebook Live. Be sure to like WBCM – Radio Bristol on Facebook to tune in every month!

Host band Bill and the Belles started the evening off with a set of inventive and light-hearted music that set the mood for the rest of the evening. Debuting an original piece entitled “Get Up and Give It One More Try,” host Kris Truelsen brought the house down with a fantastic scat singing solo, followed up by the classic “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More.” Following a brief word from our sponsors, “Heirloom Recipe” presenter Jack Beck took the stage. Born in Dunfermline, Scotland, Jack was a founding member of Heritage, one of the premier traditional Scottish bands of the 1970s, but he now makes his home in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, where he runs the Tales of the Lonesome Pine bookstore with his wife Wendy Welch. Jack has long studied the connections between Scotland and Appalachia, including food. Jack talked about his grandfather’s recipe for porridge – with salt not sugar! – and shared porridge’s place in Scottish culture. It turns out that there are many different ways of preparing oats, so Bill and the Belles cleared up any confusion surrounding the topic with a jingle called “Totes for Groats.”

Left pic: All four band members clustered around the microphone playing their instruments and singing; right pic: Jack Beck standing at the microphone holding a can of porridge.
House band Bill and the Belles brought great music to the audience at usual, while Jack Beck waxed lyrical, and even sang, about porridge – oatmeal to you and me! © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

Our first musical guest of the evening was the legendary Roy Book Binder. Following a stint in the Navy, Book traveled with and learned from the likes of country blues giants such as Reverend Gary Davis and Pink Anderson. Stopping by Bristol on his never-ending world tour, Roy brought his particular brand of music, combining raw blues guitar with light-hearted storytelling, to our Farm and Fun Time audience. Book performed a diverse selection of songs, including Pink Anderson and Blind Blake classics from the days of 78rpm records to his own compositions including “It Coulda Been Worse” and “Step Right Up,’ an homage to his near brush with stardom in Chief Thundercloud’s Medicine Show. Book was the definition of a showman, and his witty stories about his decades in show business added another layer of entertainment to an already brilliant set. It was a privilege to have a true legend of American roots music on Farm and Fun Time.

Roy Book Binder at the microphone playing his guitar and singing.
Roy Book Binder had the audience on the edge of their seats and laughing with his storied songs. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

For our “ASD Farm Report,” Radio Bristol visited Barry Bales’ Farm in Mosheim, Tennessee. When he’s not on the road with the likes of Allison Kraus or The Earls of Leicester, Bales can be found working on the farm that has been in the family for six generations producing the finest pastured meat. Here is a video from our visit:

Closing out the evening was a once-in-a-lifetime set from Traveller. Blending the voices and songwriting prowess of acclaimed songwriters Jonny Fritz, Robert Ellis, and Cory Chisel, Traveller is a country music super group. Performing songs off their new record Western Movies, the band is blazing across the United States playing high-profile gigs in major cities and illustrious venues, including the storied Newport Folk Festival, so it was an extra special occurrence for them to make a stop here in the Twin Cities. Taking songwriting beyond the classic country music themes of heartbreak and home, Traveller performs songs about the mental fatigue experienced in a Kroger during the holiday season and an unyielding love for cowboy movies. One of the highlights of the evening was when Traveller launched into “Hummingbird,” arguably the most infectious piece of music ever written. Not only are the members of Traveller amazing songwriters, but they know how to put on a show! With the rockin’ lead guitar of Robert Ellis and Jonny Fritz’s trademark zany antics, this was a performance those in attendance will never forget.

Left pix: Close up of Robert Ellis on electric guitar ; center pic: full band in front of audience; right pic: Close up on Cory Chisel on acoustic guitar
Traveller’s performance was electrifying – a great end to a fantastic Farm and Fun Time! © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

We had a blast kicking off our third season of Farm and Fun Time with Roy Book Binder and Traveller, and we hope you enjoyed the show as much as we did. If you couldn’t join us in May, fear not! Though we’ll be taking a break in June, we will reveal our lineup for the July 12 show shortly, and tickets will be available soon!

Giving the Dame Her Due: Olive Dame Campbell and the History of Ballad Collecting

Olive Dame Campbell appears sometimes as a ghostly figure in the world of folk music: half champion, half a forgotten footnote. She came to our attention by different routes. While undertaking her PhD in Ethnography in Newfoundland, Wendy met her as a strong feminist icon doing great work; Jack discovered her as we prepared to teach ballads and folktales at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, a few years ago. Olive had established the school in memory of her late husband, and they had both been involved in establishing settlement schools in Appalachia in the early 1900s.

Olive first encountered Appalachian ballads and fiddle tunes as she and John began their good works, and a little sidetracking goes a long way – Olive was the first to start collecting the old mountain ballads that had migrated from Scotland and England via the Scots-Irish pioneers, and she also created a manuscript collection of words and music. Experts debate how her work came to the attention of the famous English folk song enthusiast Cecil Sharp, who came to the Appalachians to do similar work in 1916 to 1918 and, with his secretary Maud Karpeles, built on the collecting work done by Olive. Eventually this combined work would be published as English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians; however, since its publication, the collection has mostly been referred to as Sharp’s work – rarely do we see Olive given much credit beyond her name in small print on the book’s title pages.

Title page from 1932 edition of English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians. It reads as: Collected by Cecil J. Sharp...Including thirty-nine tunes contributed by Olive Dame Campbell
This version of English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians, published in 1932, relegates her to a contributor role. Photograph © Birthplace of Country Music Museum

Until Hollywood got hold of the story, that is….

The lead character of a movie called Songcatcher was loosely based on Olive Dame Campbell. The film focuses on the mountain music of Appalachia and uses many very fine local musicians in supporting roles, including Sheila Kay Adams and Phil Jamieson. In the final scene, as the ballad collector heads down the mountain to conquer city life with her new Appalachian family, they meet an English gentleman headed up. He is obviously based on Cecil Sharp.

It was seeing Songcatcher that rekindled our interest in someone we felt should be better known. It may be that she was rather sidelined simply because she was a woman carrying out studies at a time when men were seen as more ‘serious’ academics. It’s certainly interesting how difficult finding information about her song collecting can be. Internet searches divert to information about her husband or Sharp. She does have a page on Wikipedia, but once again it’s mostly about the men in her life.

When we make musical presentations, we like to point out that most tradition bearers are women, in music and song as well as in story and dance. Women are frequently the sources of the ballads, the stories, the recipes, the remedies, etc. How often has an archived recording of home visits featured a male source breaking down in the middle of a ballad, only for the sister, wife or mother to shout the next line from the kitchen where she is preparing food for the guests who have come to record the singer?

The series of books that we lent to the museum for its current exhibition, The Appalachian Photographs of Cecil Sharp, span 1700–1950. All are published by men, although their song and ballad sources are mostly women. Sir Walter Scott got the majority of his ballads from ‘Mrs Brown of Falkland’ – a clergyman’s wife, who was famously scathing in her condemnation of his alterations to her texts. She was an educated intelligent woman but she didn’t have the connections or reputation that Scott had. Like Olive, she became a footnote and an amusing story to tell about how charming source behavior can sometimes be.

That being said, we don’t condemn the many fine male folk-song collectors and scholars within this field, from David Herd to Bertrand Bronson. They produced important collections during times when women weren’t expected – nor allowed the opportunities – to do other than shout the next line from the kitchen. And when we think about that, perhaps Olive Dame Campbell actually did blaze a trail by getting her name with Cecil Sharp’s on the title page of the first edition of English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians.

Photograph shows the panel from the Cecil Sharp exhibit focused on Olive Dame Campbell beside a photograph of Campbell.
It is good to see that Olive Dame Campbell’s significant role in this song collecting history is recognized in the Cecil Sharp exhibit on loan from the Country Dance and Song Society and currently on display in the museum’s Special Exhibits Gallery. Photograph © Birthplace of Country Music

What’s sad for us is that her truly pioneering work, which predated Sharp by years, seems to have often been systematically sidelined. Sharp on his collecting travels throughout Appalachia was accompanied by his “secretary” Maud Karpeles, who in these more enlightened times has come to be recognized as more important than Olive Dame Campbell. Olive has faded, a ghost whose power and influence are as yet unsung. We have hope and confidence that future scholars will fill out her life and recognize her contributions to preserving and perpetuating the songs we still sing today.

Thank you to our guest bloggers Jack Beck and Wendy Welch, who wrote this blog post about Olive Dame Campbell, the perfect post to accompany our current special exhibit, on display through May 31, 2018.

Jack was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, and lived most of his life there. A founding member of Heritage, one of the seminal traditional Scottish bands of the 1970s and 1980s, he was also the musical partner of Barbara Dickson. Awarded an honorary lifetime membership in the Traditional Music and Song Association for his services to Scottish traditional music, he spent five years as external examiner in Scots Traditional song at the Royal Scottish Conservatoire in Glasgow. Jack has lived for the last twelve years in Big Stone Gap, Virginia with his wife Wendy Welch, in the heart of Appalachia and old-time mountain music. Wendy is the author of four books, the most recent Fall or Fly detailing effects of the opioid crisis on foster care. She has a PhD in Folklore, is book editor for the Journal of Appalachian Studies, and was founding director of a storytelling non-profit in Scotland. Together they run a bookstore – Tales of the Lonesome Pine – the subject of Wendy’s memoir The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap from St. Martin’s Press.

Teachers and Museums Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly (And All the Other Good Things!)

Today is National Teacher Appreciation Day!

And while the museum views itself as an educational resource, some of OUR most important resources are the teachers who bring their students through our doors and take what they learned in the museum back to their classroom. And so today, we wanted to share a blog post about the educator’s experience in our museum – and say a HUGE thank you to all the teachers who enhance their students’ learning through a variety of creative lessons and activities, who support the kids in their classrooms in ways big and small, and who work hard to set the foundation to make the next generation into curious, interested, and engaged adults!

The Birthplace of Country Music is always looking to find great ways to engage with students and teachers and with families looking for entertaining learning experiences. This is an essential part of our mission. We do this in a variety of ways from school tours to educational programming to fun family activities and through all three of our outlets: the museum, the radio station, and the festival. Check out our blog post here to learn more about some of these activities. We are also fortunate that our museum’s permanent exhibit enables us to approach our content from multiple angles – for instance, music and its history, Appalachian culture, local history, and technology, to name a few.

Museum staff member showing a group of female students the instruments in the museum's permanent exhibits.
American Heritage Troop TN5624 touring the museum in July 2017. © Birthplace of Country Music Museum

But we also have the wonderful resource of our Special Exhibits Gallery and the variety of traveling and temporary exhibits that are displayed there – and these present us with the opportunity to bring a variety of other interesting and relevant educational opportunities to our local and regional schools and our community. We hosted the Smithsonian’s Things Come Apart exhibit last summer and fall, and it is a great example of how a special exhibit can address a host of learning goals – due to its heavy STEAM focus, we saw several school groups visit the exhibit and we experienced firsthand how teachers can use our content as a supplement to their curriculum.

One school – Sullins Academy – decided to make the most of all that Things Come Apart offered, and we asked their Head of School Roy Vermillion to blog about their experience, sharing with us and our readers how the exhibit enhanced their learning goals – and was just all around good fun!

“Sullins Academy’s faculty and staff had a chance to experience the wondrous exhibit Things Come Apart last summer right as it opened. We came to the museum for one of our faculty workdays, which gave us the chance to dig deep into this Smithsonian exhibit firsthand and to actually see how touring and working with the content of this exhibit could benefit our students.

Group of teachers working together at a round table to build a structure of colorful straws.
Sullins Academy teachers used their faculty workday to explore the Spark!Lab activity kits that came with the Things Come Apart exhibit. As can be seen here, they took the task of building a structure from bendy, colorful straws seriously! © Birthplace of Country Music

After having lots of fun ourselves, we booked several of our classes to visit the Birthplace of Country Music Museum to see this exhibit focused on various common items that had been taken apart and presented in a most unique and artistic format. STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) education is such an important part of our school’s curriculum, and the Things Come Apart tour supported and affirmed the importance of providing such opportunities for our students. The experience gave our students the opportunity to view things differently and to begin to understand the complexity of items and the engineering that goes into the manufacturing of such objects.

The tour enjoyed by our faculty, as well as our students, was enhanced with a fortuitous chance to have a hands-on experience through a variety of Smithsonian Spark!Lab activities where groups worked together to create a product specific to a particular need. These makerspace centers encouraged the groups to collaborate in order to solve a problem, which further enhanced what was taken away from this educational “Beyond the Classroom” experience.

A group of students grouped around their finished Invent-a-Vehicle, all making silly faces and poses!
A group of Sullins students used the Smithsonian Spark!Lab activity kit to build a functional vehicle from wheels and plastic pipe. Photograph courtesy of Sarah Hampton

The principles highlighted in this exhibit also carried through into our classrooms back at Sullins – for instance, prior to visiting the museum, our eighth-grade students actually disassembled a broken cell phone to see all the components and applied what they would see at the exhibit to a real-life experience.

This exhibit was important to Sullins because it gave us a unique educational opportunity to enhance our students’ learning experience. It also served as an inspiration for our students to explore and to experiment as they participated in their own Things Come Apart projects back at school.

Left pic: Male student taking apart a cell phone; center pic: Two female students working on a circuit board; right pic: A group of students with their Things Come Apart science fair display, along with their teacher and school principal.
Sullins teacher Sarah Hampton used the faculty workday, the student visits to the Things Come Apart exhibit, and its related STEAM concepts as inspiration for a variety of learning lessons back in the classroom. Photographs courtesy of Sarah Hampton

We encourage everyone to take advantage of the myriad of opportunities a facility like the Birthplace of Country Music Museum is able to bring to our community. We are fortunate to have the availability of such an innovational entity from which we can garner these unique and important educational opportunities for ourselves and the children we serve.”

The experiences of Sullins Academy’s students and teachers really reflect the goals of our museum: to provide an educational and inspirational experience, one that brings real engagement to those who visit us and acts as a support for learning within our local community and schools. And they also reflect the dedication of our teachers and educators to bring out the curiosity of our children and get them excited about learning.

As we move forward, we embrace the excitement of engaging with students – and all of our every day visitors – in order to share our resources with them and highlight the value that museums – and teachers – bring to communities like ours on a daily basis.

Guest blogger Roy Vermillion is Head of School at Sullins Academy in Bristol, Virginia. Head Curator René Rodgers provided context to his guest post. Thank you to teacher Sarah Hampton for sharing her wonderful pictures of the students at the museum and in the classroom.

Happy Birthday to Ernest Phipps!

There’s an old church joke about when Jesus returned to heaven after his time on earth. All the angels gather around to celebrate Jesus’s success overcoming death, and someone asks, “So now what’s the plan? How are we going to tell the world the good news?” Gabriel offers to blow his trumpet. Michael suggests a multitude of heavenly hosts. Jesus looks at the angels and says, “I’ve got it covered. I told these twelve guys, and they’re going to tell some people, and then those people will tell some people…”

As ridiculous as this sounded to the angels, this method of sharing the gospel tells us something about the music and ministry of Ernest Phipps of Gray, Kentucky, who was born on May 4, 1900. Ernest Phipps and His Holiness Quartet recorded six sides on Tuesday, July 26, the second day of Ralph Peer’s 1927 Bristol Sessions. Their recording of “Don’t You Grieve After Me” was issued with the earliest Bristol Sessions serial number and released in the first batch of Bristol sides in September 1927.

The music Phipps and His Holiness Quartet made in 1927 sounds like spirited old-time music. Phipps sings lead accompanied by a high harmony; a guitar or two and fiddle back the singing, and the fiddle plays the melody on instrumental breaks. Charles Wolfe conjectured that Ancil McVay played guitar and Roland Johnson played fiddle and that perhaps Alfred Karnes, another preacher from the Corbin area who recorded his own gospel sides that week, played the driving guitar bass runs. The singing and playing are raw and real, someone stomps on the one and three, and the distinguishing element of these songs, particularly “Do, Lord, Remember Me” and “Old Ship of Zion,” is a galloping, deep-in-the-beat feel.

Reproduction Victor label of Ernest Phipps and the Holiness Quartet's "Do Lord Remember Me" showing the Victor Nipper logo and the name of the song and singers.
Reproduction Victor label of Ernest Phipps and His Holiness Quartet’s “Do, Lord, Remember Me.” Photograph © Birthplace of Country Music

Phipps worked his whole life in the coal business, as a miner, a truck driver, and later as co-owner of a small operation. He also preached and sang in the Holiness churches around Corbin, Kentucky from the 1920s until his death in 1963, minus a few years he was in the army during World War II. Much of what we know of his life comes from his youngest sister, Lillian McDaniel, and his stepsons W. R. and J. Randall Mays. Their memories do not fill in the whole picture of Phipps’s life, but they tell us enough to know that his ministry was his major focus, and that his music was likely a component of his ministry. He often visited churches to preach, and would also sing, but no one remembers his visiting churches to sing and not preach.

The picture to the left show Ernest Phipps in front of a bridge at the side of the lake; he is holding a fishing pole. The picture to the right shows Ernest Phipps, wife Minnie, and an unknown women perched on top of a "stack" of rocks above a river plain.
Ernest Phipps loved fishing and is pictured here at Cherokee Lake sometime around 1953. In the picture on the right, he is seen with his first wife Minnie and a friend posing on a rock outcrop; a historic site marker nearby references the Civil War’s Battle of Wauhatchie. Left: Courtesy of Rev. J. Randall Mays and Rev. W. R. Mays, stepsons of Rev. Ernest Phipps; Right: Donated to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum by Teresa Phipps Patierno in the memory of her grandfather, Ernest Phipps, a coal miner and Holiness preacher from Kentucky, a simple man who loved his Lord.

The idea that Phipps’s recorded music constitutes an early form of mass media evangelism may involve projecting motives from our time onto his, but nothing in Phipps’s story suggests that he sought a career in music; however, much evidence exists that Phipps sought to share his faith. When he returned to Bristol in October 1928, he brought eight members of his congregation – three female vocalists and five instrumentalists – who recorded six songs that “give us some sense of the power and drive of a real Holiness service,” in the words of Charles Wolfe. The group vocals shift moment to moment between harmony and unison singing and overpower the instrumentation on most songs. The string band groove of Phipps’s 1927 sides is replaced here with a less precise but no less energetic backing shuffle. During refrains, a chorus of handclaps on the one, two, three, and four beats propels these songs into a frenetic pace. These sides sound more like field recordings of a church service than commercial records, but Ernest Phipps and Ralph Peer were onto something: “If the Light Has Gone Out of Your Soul” backed with “Bright Tomorrow” sold almost 12,000 copies.

Here’s “Went Up In The Clouds Of Heaven,” one of the songs recorded by Ernest Phipps and His Holiness Singers at the 1928 Bristol Sessions:


Phipps’s recordings, especially from the 1928 sessions, have sent folk music scholars and fans in a number of interesting directions. Charles Wolfe remarked that Phipps’s recordings preserve “rare examples of the exuberant, ragged, hand-clapping Holiness music” of 1920s Appalachia, particularly Eastern Kentucky. Harry Smith included “Shine on Me” from the 1928 Sessions in his Anthology of American Folk Music alongside the most important American folk musicians of the first half of the 20th century. My work on Phipps suggests that his recordings pioneer a Southern Gospel music antithetical to the harmony singing of the Stamps Quartet, who also recorded at the 1928 Bristol Sessions.

Simple photograph of The Anthology of American Folk Music CD set.
The cover of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.

Because of the spirit it preserves and represents, Phipps’s music has lived a remarkable life of its own. The life of Ernest Phipps suggests that his brief recording career served a purpose: to share the gospel with as many people as he could.

Brandon Story teaches English at King University in Bristol, Tennessee. His chapter “Gospel According to Bristol: The Life, Music and Ministry of Ernest Phipps” appears in Charles Wolfe and Ted Olson’s The Bristol Sessions: Writing About the Big Bang of Country Music.